§ 3.14 p.m.
§ Lord Somers rose to call attention to the case for increasing the use of the railways, and to possible means of doing so; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, anyone who looks at traffic on the roads today will be in no doubt that it is rapidly becoming an unbearable problem. The building of more roads is only a very partial solution. Driving today is no longer a pleasure; it is rapidly becoming an extremely nerve-wracking toil. What are we to do? Surely the answer lies in the railways. We already have a marvellous network of railways, a heritage from a great generation of engineers. There are very few parts of the country that are not within reach of a line. All that needs to be done is to persuade the public that rail travel is more agreeable and safer than road travel.
We have to overcome certain old and time worn prejudices. The motorist considers it far more pleasant to go from door to door, to start when he likes and to arrive when he can. He can choose what route he likes and stop on the way where he wishes. All that is true to a point; but it omits two very important factors. The first is that because of pressure of traffic, he may be forced to take some route other than the one he had planned. Secondly, 181 and even more importantly, driving long distances on the roads today is very tiring and nerve-wracking. When one's nerves are stretched one's powers of concentration are weakened and one may do silly things, sometimes with disastrous consequences. That element of safety is the most important facet to remember in comparing the two methods of travel. Disasters such as Clapham are rare events, so rare that when they occur they occupy the largest headlines in every newspaper in the country. But road accidents have to be so severe that many lives are lost; otherwise they are simply not noticed.
§ I have no wish to decry the very important engineering work on the railways—the introduction of high speed trains, the building of new routes to relieve congestion and so on. I wish that work every 'success. But I do not feel, on the whole, that that is what the public wants. What the public wants is comfort, freedom from worry, and the feeling that people are being looked after and that there is somebody there in case they are needed. There should be more staff available to answer questions. It would be a good idea at large stations to have a man stationed in a kiosk within reach of platform entrances so that one did not have to walk half a mile to find him. Incidentally, he should be a man who really knows what he is doing. I have been disappointed so often by railway officials who say "I couldn't say. Look at the notice board", or something like that. There is no substitute for a real live man to supply information. The departure boards are all very well but they sometimes give the information you want only about two minutes before your train departs. Some people find difficulty in seeing them.
§ Why can we not re-introduce porters? It is no joke to arrive at one's destination with a load of heavy luggage. One knows that there are such things as luggage trolleys somewhere on the station. Must one leave one's luggage unattended while going to look for a trolley? I would think twice before leaving my luggage unattended these days. Porters are essential.
§ It is also desirable that there should be more comfortable waiting rooms. One often arrives about a quarter of an hour before one's train leaves. It is a little hard to have to sit on nothing but a bare wooden board—hard in more senses than one. I realise that one of the difficulties is vandalism. British Rail dare not equip waiting rooms with furniture for fear that it may be damaged. At my station in Epsom, which is being rebuilt, that problem has been overcome by an ingenious method. The waiting room has been turned into a buffet so that there is always someone in charge.
§ It is desirable too at larger stations to have as great a variety of shops as possible. I must tell your Lordships of an experience I had a few days ago at Waterloo Station. I arrived in good time to catch my train and realised that I had forgotten something I wanted from the post office. I thought that in a station of that size there must be a post office, so I looked around for someone to ask. I looked in vain. I was about to give up when suddenly along came a man driving a wagonload of trolleys. I stopped him and asked whether there was a post office at the 182 station. He shook his head sadly and said, "No, there has not been one for years". That is not good enough.
§ Another important change is that we no longer have the punctual running of trains for which we were once famous. Your Lordships will have noted the hoots of laughter which greeted the Answer given by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, to a Question tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Moyne, about digital clocks. I am afraid that the punctual running of trains is something of the past.
§ I have discovered the reason why trains from Waterloo Station never leave on time. It is because there is no one to shut the gates on to the platforms. It is extraordinary, but the number of occasions on which I have seen the ticket inspectors' boxes empty cannot be counted.
§ I had intended to comment on the transport of goods. However, after discussing the subject with my noble friend Lord Greenhill, who knows far more about it, I have decided that as there are difficulties I shall leave it to him. I believe, however, that more can be achieved by the use of containers so that a single wagon can go straight to its destination. Perhaps we could also use the roll-on, roll-off system with lorries of limited size. Improvements can be made in that area.
§ The railways are the essential method of removing traffic from the roads. They are a great heritage, and it is up to us to make the most of them. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.24 p.m.
§ Lord Moyne
My Lords, I have much sympathy with the far-ranging points made by the noble Lord, Lord Somers. I intend to speak briefly on a narrower field. Surely one way of increasing the use of the railways is by keeping down fares. Therefore it is essential that British Rail should not throw away money on unnecessary expenditure.
It was with such considerations in mind that I recently asked a Question about digital clocks. I sought to know the amount spent by British Rail throughout the country in 1988 and contemplated to be spent in 1989 and 1990. Our local newspaper in Andover had written to say that £1 million was being spent on digitalising the Southern. Region. Perhaps that is not considered as having a significant effect on fares. But is £1 million the right figure? My noble friend Lord Brabazon could give no figures. He simply mentioned an intention to install digital clocks in all stations in the South-Eastern network in order to make trains more punctual. The noble Lord, Lord Somers, reminded the House that this promoted laughter from your Lordships.
If British Rail was a private company, undoubtedly such questions would be answered by the chairman at a shareholders' meeting. When I was on the board of a public company, the airman had such figures in front of him together with a justification in case a shareholder asked a question. However, we have been given only the laughable justification of punctuality, but no figures. Surely that is putting a rather creaking cart in front of an invisible horse. Perhaps in his reply my noble friend will shed some light on the horse; that is I he national horse not only the South Eastern one.
183 The shareholders in British Rail are the British people, and Parliament is the nearest body to a shareholders' meeting. We are entitled to know such figures, and there seems no other way of breaking through the secrecy in which British Rail evidently shrouds its financial planning. My suggestion of installing new dial clocks with sweep second hands was not taken up, and the possibility of repairing old clocks met with the suggestion of putting them into museums. Surely station clocks are not loved by the Muses; they are objects of utility rather than beauty. Of what use to travellers are clocks in glass cases which are situated behind walls?
Such considerations are trivial beside the fact, which has emerged, that a nationalised industry is being allowed to withhold the figures of its finances from the nation, and that vast sums may be in the course of commitment to unnecessary and extravagant expenditure.
I should like to turn from such major questions to a relatively minor one. Would it not be better if our railways put up the names of stations to face across the direction of trains instead of sideways? If my train is going fast enough, I often find that I have passed the noticeboard before I can read it, as indeed my few minutes of words are now past before the Government or British Rail will take them in or heed them.
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ Lord Sefton of Garston
My Lords, when I added my name to the list of speakers I did not envisage that the debate would concentrate on knocking British Rail as it has until now. The noble Lord, Lord Somers, referred to our heritage from British Rail. He made no reference to the history of that heritage. There was a time when people could walk on to a railway station and find plenty of porters. There was a time when the different regions appeared to look after the customers. There was a time when the capitalisation of the railway system was so large that in Manchester the authorities could afford to build the longest railway station in the world because one line was competing with another for custom. At one time the authorities could even afford to build special railway stations for important people who owned land and who therefore formed an obstruction. There are several instances of that on Merseyside. Railway stations were deliberately built to serve one or two of the landed gentry.
It was the fight to join that investment in order to make money from which the problems of the present system stem. There was no competition. The motor engine had not been invented, road traffic was rudimentary and certainly did not compete with the railways, and so the industry could do what it liked. That was the heritage passed on to us.
Along with that, many restrictions were placed on railways. At one time railways had to be common carriers. They were compelled by government to carry any load in their wagons regardless of the cost. The same fee was charged for all sorts of loads even though it meant cleaning out railway wagons at an exhorbitant cost.
184 The real problem began to be apparent to the country when the other competitors, the road services, came into operation. We then had a different ball game. Previously there had only been competition between different railway companies but that now became competition of a fiercer nature. Railways found their existence threatened. They met that first by mergers, and then it was revealed to the nation that if different railway companies with their different methods were allowed to handle the railway system, that would be a threat to the nation. Both in the First World War and in the Second World War a government which was certainly not a socialist government decided that there should be some control over transport. We then had a situation where the railways were controlled and practically owned by the nation.
However, that went further. There was a time—and a very sensible time from the transport point of view—when no two coalmen were allowed to take coal lorries into the same street. There was proper organisation to save fuel, costs and labour. That is the lesson we should learn.
I and every other noble Lord in this House can give 101 good, humanitarian reasons why we should move traffic off the roads and on to the railways, and why we should ensure that long distance freight should be carried on the railways. When we try to do that, what do we come up against? We come up against all the matters being propagated by this Government as a sensible way of organising national transport; that is, to split it into different organisations each bothered and concerned with itself. What sense is there in a so-called civilised society when somebody has to board a not very comfortable coach in Edinburgh or Inverness and fight his way to London along the motorways with all the attendant dangers? That is for one reason only; namely, that the motor company concerned shall make a profit.
Of course, there is no relationship between the transportation of people by road and the sensible transportation of people on long journeys by British Rail. Of course there is no connection because this Government have instituted a system where there will not he any nationally co-ordinated plan on transport. One cannot distinguish between the need for a proper rationalised railway system and the need for a proper rationalised organisation of road and rail transport; that is, transport as a whole.
Six minutes is all too short to go into the real problems. However, I appeal to the rest of the speakers in this debate not to concentrate on the question of what British Rail is doing right and wrong, but to look at the major problem of what the country is doing right andwrong. Did it take a war to make us realise that the only sensible, economical and humanitarian way of organising the transportation of our people and goods is to have control over the whole system? Do we have to learn the lesson of more deaths on the road before we realise that the sensible way to carry people from the north of Scotland to the south-east of England is to have a system whereby the cost is made equal? The cost of going from Edinburgh to London should be equal whether one travels by road or rail so that people have a free choice. The truth is that people do not have a free 185 choice. Most people do not have a free choice of going by coach or rail on such long journeys. The only choice they have depends on how much they have in their pockets.
Until we institute a system whereby we look at transport in a proper rational way, as the Labour Government in 1945 and the coalition Government in 1940 tried to do, then we shall never get anywhere. I wish that we could again talk to Winston Churchill. I say that because of all the Conservatives that there are in this country, he was the only one who had any sensible idea on what to do about transport.
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, the fact that so many Peers wish to speak in this debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Somers, shows how important the issue is. In fact, transport has moved centre stage.
There is not the slightest doubt that the railways have achieved many successes in the recent past. Perusal of the last annual report shows that they earned a surplus in 1987–88 of nearly £300 million. Passenger volume was the highest for 27 years, rail freight was the best for 10 years and they earned a surplus on that traffic.
However, underlying the success story is the fact that there has been a very substantial growth in demand for railways and other forms of transport over the past three to four years—much greater than had been experienced in past years. That has led to congestion on the roads and overcrowding and delays on the railways. Furthermore, even on a moderate estimate of forward demand as contained in the Government's recently published Central London Rail Study, the demand for transport in the London area will grow by another 20 per cent. by the end of the century, and that could well be an underestimate as it is only based on lower employment projections.
The transport bottleneck which we have in the country as a whole is seriously impeding the prospect of further economic growth. Delays and congestion in transport are estimated by the CBI to cost the nation something over £3 billion per year in lost time and delays. There is no doubt that the railways could play a major role in overcoming that bottleneck. The question is whether under present arrangements for running and financing the railways, that can be achieved.
Perhaps I may say a few words about that in the time remaining. Even though there is a high level of investment put into the railways at present, which will rise again next year, the basic objective of that investment is to renew and replace existing assets. Very little investment is taking place in new capacity. Only the Channel Tunnel line and the cross-rail schemes as proposed in the Central London Rail Study are examples of new capacity. For the rest, investment replaces existing capacity.
Indeed, one fundamental objective of the railways as restated in the last annual report is a directive relating back to the Railways Act 1974 which states:the British Railways Board shall, from 1st January 1975, operate its railway passenger system so as to provide a public service which is comparable generally with that provided by the hoard at present".186 That is a static policy which suggests that what has to be done is to renew the existing capacity but not to add to it. We need a positive and dynamic policy for the railways. Are we able to achieve that? I do not believe that we can under the existing financial restraints within which they have to operate.
It is noticeable in the British Railways report for last year to which I have already referred that at the top of the list of achievements which they consider they have gained is that they kept well within the Government's external financing limit and also kept within the public service obligation grant. In other words, they seem to regard their first and overriding objective as being to keep within the financial limits set by the Treasury. They do not mention until much later the question of adequacy and quality of service and the necessity to meet the rapidly growing need for their services.
If one further examines the way that the railways are financed it is clear that it is difficult—though the Government talk a lot about it—for private sector money to come into railway schemes, for the simple reason that the famous Ryrie Rules of 1981 still apply. The concept underlying the rules is that if any private sector money comes into public sector investment the public sector quota has to be reduced accordingly. There is therefore absolutely no incentive for anyone in the public sector to seek private sector money.
Further, if any money is obtained from the European Community, from the social fund or the economic funds available, there is an automatic deduction of the government funds provided. Again, there is no incentive for people to seek more funds from these external sources.
Therefore, I believe that two things are required. First, the basic objectives under which the railways at present operate should be fundamentally changed. We should not be talking about simply maintaining the railway system at the same size that it was in 1975; we should be talking about building a rail system which meets the needs of the 1990s and beyond. That is what first needs to be done. Secondly, we need to adjust the financial constraints under which the railways are presently operating to enable them to achieve such a forward-looking objective.
§ 3.42 p.m.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester
My Lords, during Monday's debate in another place Church leaders were exhorted to concentrate on matters spiritual and eternal and leave what is obviously temporal to others. Is rail use a temporal or a spiritual and eternal matter?
Perhaps I could give a small illustration of the bishop who, after a long and worthy life administering, arrived at the pearly gates and was stopped from entering by the guardian angel as a beautiful blonde swept by. When the bishop expostulated about this he was told by the guardian angel, "Bishop, you simply do not understand. When that young woman was on earth she owned a Jaguar and she put the fear of God into more people in a week than you did in a lifetime".
187 The use of transport can perhaps therefore be considered an eternal matter. Sadly, when we look at what happens on our roads and in transport generally we are, I think, bound to say that the question of safety brings it very close to being both spiritual and eternal.
The noble Lord, Lord Somers, who initiated the debate mentioned that the safety record on the railways is very much higher than on the roads. I believe that there are about 15 times as many deaths on the roads as on rail. That may vary a little from year to year but the figures are of that order. For serious accidents the figure is at least double.
I am grateful to be following the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, because he made a cogent case for an integrated public transport policy, which is what we need in this country, that takes into account safety, social costs and benefits and tries to approach the matter as a whole. One is bound to say that successive governments have not over the years achieved that.
I listened with care to the noble Lord, Lord Sefton of Garston, about the efforts of governments in the past, but I do not think that we have ever achieved an integrated approach to transport. At the same time, the process of change and development is now so fast that we need a new approach altogether.
We need policies which will encourage public transport and move people out of their cars and on to public transport. Present policies are simply giving way to the private motorist. We all love our cars but one person's right to use a car is another person's congestion. I would not say for one moment that the motor car is not a great blessing. I think all of us experience this. We are grateful when others have the use of cars too. However, cars come within that class of goods which I think are known technically as positional goods where free use in the end is self-defeating.
The projections for car ownership in this country are simply frightening. We have had a radical change already. In 1969, which was the crucial turnabout year, we passed the figure of 50 per cent. of all households owning one car or more. The figure is now approximately 62 per cent. and rising rapidly all the time. At the same time there has been a sharp decline in the use of public transport as a whole. I know that what has been happening on the railways recently is encouraging. British Rail had a good year last year. Nevertheless, looked at overall, public transport has been declining sharply.
Those figures are reflected in local authority spending over the years. The five-year figure, ending I believe in 1985, shows a drop in spending on public transport by 39 per cent., while the corresponding figure of spending on roads rose by nearly 33 per cent. That simply does not make sense in the sort of situation into which we are moving.
One of the points that I hope comes out from this debate is a strong affirmation of the principle of cross-subsidy; in other words, if one is able to achieve savings at one point or obtain taxation from one source, that can be used in order to assist public transport and encourage people to use it. Social costs and benefits must surely be taken into account. 188 When, as the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, indicated, the railways are being asked to work to certain financial restrictions and guidelines, why is that not costed in the same way as for roads? One is not comparing like with like.
The problem of efficiency in public transport will always be with us. I can see that there is wariness of open-ended subsidy. Nobody argues about that. There must be some financial disciplines. However, proper costing is needed and the ability for the railways to make their services even more attractive.
As regards privatisation, I cannot believe that it is right or wise to go down that road for the railways. There are other ways of achieving efficiency. As the noble Lord, Lord Sefton of Garston, indicated, in Manchester we suffer from the effects of having had different railway companies in the past. That is why we have been struggling with the Pic-Vic link, as it is known, or the new plans for rapid light transit across the centre of Manchester. It was because of the private railways that we have been landed with the situation.
There are radical plans for stopping people bringing cars into the centres of cities. I back those plans provided the money that is saved is used for social purposes. One social argument over transport which is of particular importance to the Churches is that it is essential to enable people who do not have access to a car to be able to participate in society to the full by having good access to facilities through an efficient public transport system. The reduction of that service is a gross injustice in our nation and must be remedied.
My final point is that there are many indications that other countries and other cities are doing better than we are in this regard. I end with a quotation from someone in Boston in the United States who during a visit to this country told the Greater Manchester Transportation Consultative Committee, "We had to stop certain major highway schemes and divert the money into public transport in order to prevent the build-up of constant traffic overload". The Americans are doing that, why not us?
§ 3.49 p.m.
§ Lord Tanlaw
My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Somers, for bringing our attention to the situation existing on the railways and. above all, for affording us the chance to try to obtain from Her Majesty's Government their attitude in general towards rail travel and the future of the rail system in this country.
I have to declare an interest in the railway industry. My companies provide current collection equipment to high-speed locomotives and light rail in Europe and the United States. As my work takes me to Europe I cannot help but make comparisons where the railways are used to the fullest extent by passengers in order to get from A to B. People come out of a town with the mayor and corporation to demonstrate when the railway does not go through their town. They feel left out. That is the difference. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, spoke about bottlenecks. I can only report the absolute astonishment within 189 the railway industry in Europe that we in the United Kingdom are only now at this late stage trying to establish a high speed route to the Channel Tunnel.
It is generally assumed—perhaps wrongly—that the only logical reason for this apparent oversight is that it has been part of Her Majesty's Government's policy on transport to ignore it. I believe that there is even quiet admiration that the traditional Conservative policy of laissez faire can be taken to such extremes when applied to the future development of the railways. As we are talking about attitudes, it would be most helpful if the noble Lord the Minister could confirm what is the present view on long-term policy for the railways and also the view of the right honourable lady the Prime Minister. I may be wrong but it has always appeared clear to me that she is hostile to the railways. She does not travel on them; she is not very interested in their future. Therefore would it not he helpful if the right honourable lady the Prime Minister's position was clarified unequivocally regarding the future of the railways in the same clear manner in which she has demonstrated her support for the protection of the environment?
Bearing this in mind, can the noble Lord the Minister confirm that British Rail will have adequate funding now to satisfy the essential environmental requirements of the residents of Kent who might be affected by the new rail route wherever it is eventually decided? The environmental aspects of light and heavy rail systems have been the subject of much debate in recent weeks—including today's debate. From what has been said it is clear that some interested parties of the visual aspects of the railways, whether they reside in Kent or elsewhere, may not be aware that it is now technically possible to offer both high level and low level current collection options to the railway operator at the same time.
This means that the unsightly overhead wires and the posts to support them which so many people quite righty dislike are no longer necessary except perhaps in those inner urban areas where pedestrians cannot be safely segregated from rail or tramway traffic. Put another way, a train or tram can be adapted to collect its power from an overhead catenary like British Rail or from a third rail like the Docklands Light Railway whichever is considered the most suitable for the local environment.
Trains using the Channel Tunnel will have to use both systems at very high speeds. There is no limitation on speed for low level systems of current collection. That fact is often not appreciated by potential customers or environmentalists in general. In fact it may be of interest to some noble Lords that the world speed record of over 300 miles per hour was achieved some 20 years ago by an electric locomotive with a linear motor collecting its current from a third-rail system. I have also heard it said by the Kentish lobby that speed is not important. Very high speed is esential if the success of this new generation of locomotives is to attract passengers away from the over-congested airways and motorways of Europe. Passengers can be attracted to use high-speed trains because they deposit them right into the city centres where it is possible to inter-connect on to other forms of transport to their ultimate destination.
190 However, if there are no such interconnecting services, there is absolutely no point in establishing inter-city rail links with very high speed trains. It will still be cheaper and quicker door-to-door to take a car or a plane. I ask the noble Lord the Minister how many of our larger cities have a transport centre with inter-connecting services adjoining the main line stations? I seem to recall asking similar questions over the past 10 years or so. I have also given evidence and submitted written reports of a technical nature on integrated transport systems for our cities to special committees of this House, as have many other Peers, businessmen and operators connected with the railway industry. Presumably, all this documentation is left to gather dust in the Library alongside the Serpell Report. It appears to remain unread by those who have the power—that is, this Government, who have been in power for the past 10 years—to operate and design a proper rail transport system that is at least equal to what is available to people on the Continent of Europe.
The situation can only change if more enthusiasm is expressed for this ideal from the Prime Minister's office downwards. If such support is not forthcoming, then the rail system in this country will remain unused by passengers because it will remain under-capitalised, without direction or purpose, as part of Her Majesty's Government's laissez faire transport policy. Can the noble Lord the Minister say at this moment, and this is a very good opportunity to do so, whether he is able to persuade the right honourable lady the Prime Minister to give some form of statement on her personal views regarding the future of the railway system that her Government will soon follow?
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ Earl Attlee
My Lords, I start by declaring an interest; namely, that in three or four years' time I shall be in receipt of a small pension from British Rail. I spent seven years of my life as the assistant public relations officer at Waterloo. At least the first two or three words spoken by the noble Lord, Lord Sefton of Garston, this afternoon pleased me. He said that he thought that we were going to do something constructive and all that we have been doing so far is attacking BR. That is what everyone seems to do. I could spend the whole of my seven minutes taking each argument against BR piece by piece and showing noble Lords where it is wrong.
The object of this debate is to call attention to the case for increasing the use of the railways and to possible means of doing so. With respect to most noble Lords, I do not believe that that has been done so far. I shall touch on two matters that were anti-BR. The first concerns the digital clocks at Waterloo and possibly other stations. The old cocks were unreliable and unsynchronised but with the modern digital clocks one sees the seconds tick away. There are large notices which state that the gates will be closed 30 seconds before the train departs or the departure time of the train. There is a very good reason. Otherwise people will continue crowding on and the trains will not depart on time. That is a positive factor.
191 If one is to lambast British Rail for spending £1 million throughout the whole of the United Kingdom on installing digital clocks, one should consider the situation of BP, which spent dozens more millions than that changing its shield very slightly and putting a little wiggly line on it. Was that good? Everyone knows what the BP shield is. If one is to attack BR, surely one should attack BP even more, and to a lesser extent ICI, which had a great and wonderful marketing idea. It took out the wiggly line under ICI and took out the winks. It is crazy.
When people attack BR they normally say "They cram us into trains in conditions that would be illegal for cattle". BR has never crammed one person into any train. It is done in Japan, but it is not done in this country. It is the passengers who cram themselves into the trains. After the disaster at Clapham Junction people have been saying, "It is all BR's fault. It should not allow overcrowding". How does one stop it? My local station is Fleet in Hampshire. When a train to London comes in and one is on the up line, you can see how many people get off the train. You can say, "Now we have room for 50 second-class passengers and 40 first-class passengers". One allows them on the train. If you started at eight o'clock from Fleet, you would not get into Waterloo until about 11 o'clock. It is impossible.
What is the answer? The one matter that BR is brilliant at is cramming more trains on any given track than any other organisation in the world. People come from all over the world to see how BR manages to get so many people and so many trains into London in such a short space of time. This is the problem. One cannot put more trains on the track because there is not the room. It is no use having longer trains because if you did the rear carriage would be at one station and the engine at another.
There is only one answer. The working hours in the capital city must be staggered. Everyone wants to get in between 8 and 9.30 a.m. but it is impossible for British Rail to cope with that. Surely certain large employers of personnel should agree that some should start at 8.00 a.m., others at 8.30 a.m., some at 9.00 a.m. and others at 9.30 a.m. That would spread the load. More passengers could then travel into London on the existing services. This has always been the problem and will always be the problem.
Comparisons are made with the Continent. In France one can build a high speed railway line through virgin country in a straight line. That is fine. In France one can build nuclear power stations wherever one likes. No one ever complains. They have masses of land. We do not have masses of land. For the Channel Tunnel to be a success we must have a high speed link. The obvious route is through Kent. But wherever it goes people will complain and say, "We don't want it here". But Kent is the only logical place for the line.
If we do not get a high speed rail line we shall have at least two motorways to cope with the traffic. This will create fumes and pollute the atmosphere. High speed electric trains are safe, they do not create fumes and they are effective. I have made one or two suggestions. I hope that other noble Lords will come 192 up with some more ideas. I have to disappear from the Chamber for three minutes but I shall be back.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ Lord Airedale
My Lords, I have always understood the longest platform in the country to be at Cambridge but the noble Lord, Lord Sefton of Garston, claims that Manchester has the longest. I was thinking of having a bet with him but I had better not. I nearly always lose.
My grandfather and great grandfather both built steam locomotives, some of which, I believe, are still working in various distant places. A slow revving engine well maintained will last almost for ever. My father was a director of the old Great Northern, so it would have been difficult for me to be brought up without taking an interest in the railways. I was always told that if only James Watt and George Stephenson had lived 50 years before their time land values in central London would not have prevented the London termini being located in a Piccadilly Grand Central. Instead, we have had 150 years of passengers crossing London in all weathers, in hansom cabs and growlers, taxis, buses and Underground trains. My noble friend Lord Amherst remembers the growlers. If noble Lords do not, perhaps I may explain that they were heavy, four-wheeled horse-drawn carriages, as opposed to the more elegant and more expensive two-wheeled hansoms.
In the past two or three weeks we have been promised at least the hope of an underground Piccadilly Grand Central or something of that kind. And this, coupled with the Channel Tunnel, will undoubtedly transform the use of British Rail. We must hope that that day will come. Whatever one may think of the modern car it is usually warm and comfortable. It behoves British Rail to consider the comfort of its passengers if it is seriously in competition with the modern car. I should like to give an example of a railway station looked at from the point of view of the comfort of the passenger.
The station I know best is Peterborough. I hope it is a fair example. It is a busy main line station, the first or last stop of most of the fast expresses into and out of King's Cross. Peterborough has been largely rebuilt since the last war. The arrangement of platforms is that the centre sections are covered but the ends are open to the elements. In a normal winter the elements in the East Midlands can be very severe. In the 125 trains the first-class accommodation is invariably at one or other end othe train. This means that when there is ice and snow on the platform at Peterborough it is the first-class passengers who are deposited with their luggage on that ice and snow.
The commuters for King's Cross on platform 2 are more fortunate. They can congregate in the centre section of the platform and wait for their trains. They may have to wait for some time because all kinds of things happen to trains from the north of England on their way to Peterborough. I wish I could say that commuters are able to wait in a comfortable waiting room until the train arrives; alas there is no waiting room. There is plenty of room to build one, and there are plenty of good waiting rooms on the other platforms—but not on platform 2 serving King's 193 Cross. There is a sign which says "Waiting Room", but when one gets there one finds a snack bar and a cafeteria. if one tries to use that purely as a waiting room one feels that one is getting in the way of people taking refreshments; and one probably is.
The commuters congregate on the platform in the dry. At least they can board the train dry. The first-class passengers can make their way along the train past the second-class passengers and past the restaurant car into the first-class accommodation at the end of the train. Once there they are fairly sure of a warm, comfortable, swift journey to King's Cross. That is a happy note to conclude upon. I hope that my noble friend Lord Attlee does not think that I have lambasted the railway too much but I believe that the comfort of passengers is something about which the British Rail board should think very carefully indeed.
§ 4.8 p.m.
My Lords, I have often wondered why organ enthusiasts such as the noble Lord, Lord Somers, are also railway enthusiasts and are very likely to have an above-average understanding of architecture, to be discriminating about vintage wine and real beer, and probably be experts on the beautifully scripted titles of Victorian lavatories. I do not know whether the noble Lord includes those in his field of interest, but obviously this is an indication of civilisation. Perhaps when he replies to the debate with his final speech he will enlighten me as to why this should be the case.
The noble Lord has raised an important point. I am old enough, as I am sure is the noble Lord, Lord Somers, to be able to remember what things were like in the 1950s and 1960s. I can recall that in the 1950s, as wartime restrictions were gradually lifted, it became apparent that there would be a dramatic increase in the ownership of private cars. Parallel to that, the public were gradually becoming accustomed to domestic air flights: to the idea of travelling from London to Edinburgh or from London to Aberdeen by air rather than by train.
Therefore it was not entirely unreasonable to assume at that time that the era of the train was perhaps on the decline and that in order to frame our future transport policy what was needed was more motorways and more runways. But most unfortunately that particular expectation turned out to be flawed because western Europe is now facing a transportation crisis. The motorways have become clogged; for example, the M.25 (which was hailed as being the solution to Greater London's transportation problem) has now become notorious for its five-mile tailbacks. Moreover, together with that, there has been a deterioration in the environment with city centres—I am thinking especially of Liverpool—being gutted in the interests of the urban motorways and with valuable land being appropriated for car-parking space.
Further, the environment has not been improved by the increase in air traffic. Indeed, in my view, air traffic control is now on the margin of viability, especially during peak periods. I remember that in a previous debate a noble Lord asked what the difference was between a near miss and a near hit in 194 the air. Well, whatever the difference is, I do not wish to be involved in either. But, irrespective of that fact, the increase in air traffic entails considerable delays at airports.
The Beeching axe in the 1960s was inevitable; but it is the inter-city passenger traffic and the freight traffic which needs to be attracted back to the railways. The question is: how should that be done? If I were on the board of British Railways, or a senior executive, I should reflect upon all the unpleasant aspects of other modes of travel. One aspect which has occurred to me is safety. It scares me out of my wits driving on a motorway if I am travelling at less than 70 miles an hour and there is a heavy lorry or an express coach within yards of the rear of the car. Similarly, with air traffic, especially in the light of the most tragic disasters which took place at Kegworth and at Lockerbie, many people are scared of flying. Therefore safety on the railways is extremely important.
Regarding signalling, it is my estimation that with modern technology, so long as one can have the wires fixed to the right terminals, there is no reason why there should be any accident—other than as a result of natural causes, such as a land slip or something of that nature. So that covers one aspect of the matter.
Another aspect is what I call "cattle-truck conditions", whereby at airports the waiting areas are one of the most uncongenial environments in which one could find oneself. One has to queue. Moreover, when aeroplanes are late, the departure seems to be delayed in intervals of 15 or 20 minutes, so that there is no opportunity for one to go off and do something else; one is just stuck there. British Rail ought to consider how it can make conditions more congenial for passengers so that they will contrast that factor in their minds with the strain of motorway driving and the uncivilised conditions in airport terminals with cafeteria food and continuous announcements—to which one must listen, otherwise one is afraid of missing a flight.
I should have thought that overcrowding on the railways was not necessary, because one of the advantages of a train is that one, two or three coaches can be added to it. That is something which cannot be done to an aeroplane, a bus or a ship. Therefore in my view British Rail ought to try to make rail travel as congenial, as civilised, as comfortable and as convenient as possible. Moreover, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Somers, I also say that speed is important in order that the railways can remain competitive. The railways still are competitive—though only just—with air and motorway travel.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Greenhill of Harrow
My Lords, although I abandoned a railway career nearly 50 years ago, I felt tempted to take part in the debate this afternoon and to thank the noble Lord, Lord Somers, for choosing such a timely subject. He put the question: how can increasing use be made of our extensive and, in many ways, admirable system, and how should British Rail attract more passengers and freight?
I should like first to deal with passenger traffic. I suggest that there are several ways to improve this, nearly all of which are being pursued by the present 195 British Railways Board chaired by Sir Robert Reid who is, 1 believe, the first professional railwayman to hold that post. However, we must ask ourselves whether the plans of the board are being pursued with sufficient urgency and on a sufficient scale.
I should like to say here how very much I agree with the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, about the future of the railways; it is not a question of staying where we are, it is urgent that we should go forward. In my opinion, there are five ways in which additional passenger traffic can be attracted to the railways. First, there is the long overdue electrification of the east-coast line. That work must be pushed ahead as rapidly as possible. Indeed we shall have electric trains travelling to Leeds this year, and travelling to Newcastle and Scotland in 1991. Those developments will undoubtedly attract more passengers and relieve the traffic on the M.1 and other main trunk roads. But, with the exception of the Channel Tunnel and any works which may follow the Central London Railways Study, I do not see the possibility, or the need, for more major developments within the United Kingdom. However, the Minister may well have other views on the matter. It is of course inevitable that the successful operation of the Channel Tunnel after 1993 will increase the volume of passenger and freight traffic on our lines. I have not seen what the estimates are, but no doubt the Minister has them at his finger tips.
The second way to attract traffic back to the railways is the implementation of overdue and highly desirable plans involving a big programme of new passenger rolling stock. Once again, I think that one must ask oneself the question: is the programme big enough and is it being pushed ahead with the necessary money and with the necessary speed? The new rolling stock, especially that with air-cushion suspension running on welded rails, is extremely comfortable and extremely quiet. Moreover, the new commuter coaches are a marked improvement on the present ones.
The third way to attract passenger traffic is the expansion of cross-country services. There is great scope there for attracting additional passengers and providing a very necessary facility. Indeed, the board has done well in this connection and more use of what it calls the "sprinter trains" will greatly increase the cross-country traffic.
The fourth way to attract passengers is to introduce imaginative pricing for certain journeys and certain categories of people at selected times of the night and day—for example, old age pensioners, young people, members of the forces, and so on—and to organise excursion trains of a new kind at weekends which are both socially desirable and a great help to family parties.
The fifth way is to improve terminals and important junction stations; that is, not only the fabric of the buildings, but also the services provided in them. The sixth way would be to introduce better security, with radio connections to the crews of trains and telephones for passengers. Once again, I expect the Minister to say that that is being done, but not fast enough. Now is the right time for greater investment than is at present envisaged. It will also be 196 a great encouragement to management and staff, at all levels, and restore pride to the industry.
As to the transfer of traffic from road to rail, I listened with interest to what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester said. I believe that the scope for that transfer is somewhat exaggerated. The overwhelming convenience of road transport will always give the advantage to the road haulier.
If the system is to be privatised, and I see no particular reason why it should be, I sincerely hope that it will be done in one system and not broken up into independent regional groupings. Such a breakup will merely complicate the situation. The railways must be efficiently and profitably run; but their main purpose is to provide a service to the people of this country, and that can best be done by a unified system. If regional loyalties are developed, that will break up the system. It must be run as a whole. It would be wrong to put back the clock to 1923.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Lord Grimond
My Lords, I wish to follow up some of the points which have already been raised in this admirable debate, for which we are much indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Somers. The first matter about which I wish to speak is the future control of the railways. Excellent as their performance has been, as was shown by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, the uncertainty hanging over their future prevents the necessary investment and may have some effect upon morale.
Privatisation is eminently justified where the market is appropriate and competition can keep down prices and improve efficiency. Otherwise, the best way to run services such as the railways and water is as a public service directly under parliamentary control. However, there is a danger that the railways will become over-centralised. Although I appreciate that a return to the railway structure of the pre-nationalisation period is not possible, over-centralisation leads to the railways being less in touch with the passengers, as was illustrated by my noble friend Lord Airedale. That is so in small ways, and my noble friend mentioned some of them. For instance there has been the announcement that the railways will pay Saatchi Saatchi £3 million to try to boost the fast link to the coast. That is not tactful, at any rate in the commuters' view. Then there is a lamentable lack of seats at nearly all stations.
Also British Rail has destroyed some excellent station interiors for the sake of plastic travel centres. One horror that I always mention is the desecration of the view of St. Andrews, the finest golf course in the world, by the erection of a hideous hotel on the old station. If we are to assure the railways of a future, we must guarantee that they will not be pushed around here and there; and that investment will be made available for necessary improvements. In turn, they must find ways to deal with over-centralisation. Other services have succeeded in doing that. British Rail has to some extent hived off the restaurants. It might even hive off track maintenance. The Italian railway tracks are maintained under contract by an outside firm. There is a case for the state—it has often been suggested 197 before—to make itself responsible for some of the tracks which will never pay.
I am told that the present state of the lines through Kent, which are hardly high speed lines, is largely due to the obsolescence of the track. Indeed, it is worthy of the smash, crash and turnover days of the Kentish railways. The trains rock, swing and bang in a most alarming manner. In such a situation the state should provide the capital to replace the tracks.
In this connection I also want to ask about the Government's intentions with regard to what has happened in Inverness. The cutting off of the whole system north of Inverness by the failure of the bridge is a serious matter for those areas. It is apparent that British Rail will not be able to replace that bridge without special assistance. If the collapse had happened during the war, a Bailey bridge which was capable of taking heavy tanks, if not trains, would have been erected within 24 hours. We cannot wait indefinitely, because traffic is disappearing all the time. For instance, the distilleries cannot obtain fuel. 1 hope that the Government are impressed by the need to mend that bridge as quickly as possible.
That line has great potential. It has been somewhat negleted. It will be finished altogether unless something is done pretty quickly. Over £25 million was given after the storm in the South-East of England. I understand that the Government intend to give something to Scotland, but for goodness sake let them do it quickly and get this line open again.
The last point I wish to make relates to what is to happen to the railway system north of London when the Channel Tunnel is open. There is a great deal of talk about the difficulties of travelling from Kent but I should like to know what will happen to the trains from Scotland, the north of England, Wales and so forth. Does the Channel Tunnel entail an immense new improvement programme, especially alterations to platforms? The gauge is the same but the height between the rails and the platforms is different. If that means a big programme, will the Government give the money to make it possible? Do the Government intend that trains will be run from Scotland, the north of England, Wales and so forth through the Channel Tunnel or will freight go entirely by container and will passengers be expected to get into a different train in London or somewhere else?
It is of great importance to the trade and general well-being of the North and the West that the Channel Tunnel should not result in the draining-off of still more of the country's economic power to the South East, and that they should also share in the advantages which it will no doubt bring.
I hope that we shall receive answers to those questions. In the meantime, I endorse what has been said. There are undoubtedly defects in the railway system and a loss of morale, especially at the top. However the railways have shown some good results, especially over the past year or so.
§ 4.28 p.m.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Greenhill declared himself as a former railway employee. I declare myself, and the Minister has on one occasion so described me, as a railway buff. I shall try not to be too technical. Our railways have 198 made tremendous strides since the noble Lord, Lord Somers, initiated his last debate on the subject, which I believe was about three years ago.
I remember that at that time I amused myself, and may even have amused some of your Lordships, by drawing comparisons between train timings in 1910 and now. The 1910 Bradshaw is still one of my favourite bedtime books. That has now all gone. With HSTs and so on we seem to be going faster and faster. We shall soon get within sight or a four-hour schedule to Edinburgh. Against that, I am afraid that one will find if one is, as I am, a regular reader of Railway Magazine, that for most travellers, especially cross-country travellers— the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, pointed out the importance of cross-country travel—the late running is deplorable. I can use no other word.
I hope I shall not weary your Lordships if I give a brief quotation from Railway Magazine, describing a cross-country journey between Liverpool and Scarborough. I think it is appropriate. This is a journey which is undertaken on one of the two-coach "Sprinters" but it did not do very much sprinting on this occasion. If I may digress just for a minute, the problem with these is that they are two-coach units. And it is not so easy just to add on units as the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, suggested. The man on this journey was travelling, let me remind your Lordships, from Liverpool to Scarborough, and he wrote this:Boarding at Liverpool, I was lucky enough to have a seat. At Manchester Victoria another two-car unit was added, but this was insufficient to cope comfortably with the crowds waiting to join the train. As we called at more stations, the story got worse: elderly people and families with young children had to fight their way on board and the carriage resounded with calls from anxious parents to each other and to their children.A horrible scene.For most who joined after Manchester there was; standing room only. I understand that it was a fair sample of the conditions on cross-country trains on Saturdays. Dare I hope that conditions improved for those poor souls who were travelling right through to Scarborough? On my next trip to York there will he no room for sentiment: I shall go by road.I expect many of your Lordships will have experienced those kinds of conditions.
Another relevant point which I should like to mention and which has also been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Somers, concerns the courtesy of staff. I think many of the British Rail staff are discourteous, but on the other hand, one comes across little pockets of quite exceptional courtesy and consideration. Indeed, I heard only the other day from my nephew—this is scarcely believable, but it happened—that a porter on Swindon station gave a drink at the bar to a harassed lady travei.ler. If that is not a record for British Rail, I do not know what is.
My Lords, I have two other points to make. One is a technical one. and I hope your Lordships will forgive me for making it. It concerns electrification, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw. Many of our lines are electrified now and many more will be electrified, but there is one little island on the Channel Tunnel journey which will remain unelectrified. I t is the short stretch—I think it is seven-and-a-half miles—from 199 Clapham Junction to that delighfully named signal box North Pole Junction. If we were to electrify that we should have continuous electrification from Manchester to Marseilles, from Liverpool to Lyons and many other places. So I believe that is worth considering. No doubt the experts have thought of it already, but perhaps the Minister could jog their minds about it.
Another good development which has not been mentioned recently— no doubt the Minister will have news of it, and I found it out by looking at British Rail's latest rail map, showing all the commercial and goods lines as well as the passenger lines— is that something like 25 new stations are now being planned. That is a very important development.
Finally, may I make a plea? I made it in my Second Reading speech on the Channel Tunnel Bill. It is that we insist on a really prestigious portal. Is this not, after all, to be the longest tunnel in the world? Are we to be content with some puny little erection of ferroconcrete, or are we to have something great, grand, glorious and prestigious— something which will match those superb tunnelportals of the nineteenth century?
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Lord Mountevans
My Lords, I too am grateful to my noble friend Lord Somers for giving us the opportunity today to debate the use we are making of our railways. I feel that the number of speakers—the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, touched on this point—who are participating today, and the fact that there are some seven or eight rail-related Bills at various stages in your Lordships' House and another six presently before another place suggest that the environmental and economic benefits of railways are once again coming into their own and that the railways in general are moving gently towards another period of greatness.
Certainly my own feeling, when I go round judging the stations in the best-kept station contest—one hesitates to claim exclusivity but I suspect I am the only person in the Chamber today who travelled from Penzance to Wick last year over a period of a fortnight, judging some 50 or 60 stations—is that over the past five years the quality of the product British Rail offers in terms of cleanliness, punctuality, staff, stations and new rolling stock is improving very significantly.
How we can increase the use of rail is a wide topic and I should really like to concentrate on the freight side of the business and on steps which will need to be taken, sooner rather than later, to maximise the use of rail in terms of goods transport. The Channel Tunnel and the single european market both offer enormous opportunities. Although both are some time away, I feel that one must address the problems now because lead times in transportation are long.
At present some 50 per cent. of our trade is with our European partners, and I would expect that proportion to grow. Such growth will bring in its train saturation on our roads, as has been mentioned by several noble Lords, particularly in the South-East. To overcome the problem we have a blunt choice: more and bigger motorways or—and this is 200 my preferred option—greater use of the existing rail network. I feel that the latter option has a crucial role to play, as has also been mentioned several times today, in spreading the economic benefits of the single european market and of the Channel Tunnel.
To enable the railways to meet their role in the future we must ensure that at least two interrelated facilities are readily available: inland freight terminals with fast access to the tunnel and the requisite Customs facilities on site in the regions. An example of what I have in mind is the unitised terminal presently being planned at Stourton, near Leeds. Here, British Rail, working in co-operation with the local authority, which has a major role to play in terms of local infrastructure, road access, the provision of utilities and planning, and private enterprise propose to build a major terminal.
One major problem—the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, also mentioned this point—is that when faced with these kinds of ventures British Rail has to invest along lines that are set down, first, to satisfy the Department of Transport and, if that hurdle can be cleared, the Treasury. If we are to make the best use of our railways, it seems to me that British Rail must be put in a position where it can invest in the face of risk and take commercial judgments. It seems to me that the present formula for approving British Rail investment plans through the investment panel itself, through the Department of Transport and through the Treasury, is a fairly positive argument for privatisation. That is something I am not at all averse to.
Privatisation is some way away and therefore it seems to me that one might hope the Government would perhaps encourage forms of private investment such as the way in which the Heathrow express link is being financed (80 per cent. private enterprise and 20 per cent. British Rail). Perhaps they would ensure that such arrangements are encouraged and are not—again I come back to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra—almost arbitrarily capped by the Treasury.
Stourton is only one of a network of terminals we need if we are to maximise the regional benefits arising out of 1992 in Europe and the tunnel in 1993. There could be a whole string of others, such as Cardiff, Manchester, Glasgow, Liverpool, Edinburgh and Tyneside. In fact, looking at the map, I suspect one might need 12 locations to give good coverage across the country. We must achieve this coverage. To do that we must ensure that Customs practices are modified so that the whole operation runs smoothly and is attractive to customers.
Her Majesty's Government and Excise at present requires all goods to be cleared at point of entry, generally a littoral port. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food requires similar treatment for all meat for human consumption and for practically all fruit and vegetables. Even now Dover is admitted to be getting close to saturation. In a longer debate I could discuss dreadful parallels at frontiers in Europe. I ration myself to one example. Last summer it was frequently the case that 40 freight trains were waiting for clearance at Chiasso in Italy, but were delayed for up to seven days because of the Customs bottleneck.
201 British Rail and its partners have contracted for 30 freight paths every 24 hours through the Channel Tunnel. If these paths are to be properly exploited we must devise means of Customs clearance as close to the point of destination as possible. One possibility is a degree of pre-clearance at Frethune on the other side. After all, we have the ability now to pre-clear intercontinental passengers if the airlines so wish at their point of departure.
Another requirement is that local inland clearance must be available—not universally available on demand but available at regional centres such as Stourton. I appreciate that there will always be a need for Customs vigilance, not least because of the drugs problem. Similarily, the Excise department must exercise its VAT and Excise controls and its revenue-raising functions. However, if we are to make the most of 1992 and 1993 and the best use of our railways there will be a need to change Customs working practices.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ Lord Ross of Newport
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Somers, for initiating this short but important debate. As one who in recent months has spent many long hours on cross-country routes—two in particular—I have some observations to make later that have been boiling up inside me for some months.
First, I assure the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, that I want to give a few bouquets to British Rail. I think that InterCity 125 is a magnificent service, though it is getting rather expensive. Why British Rail cannot guarantee a seat to everyone who buys a ticket I do not know. Far too many people have to stand in second-class accommodation. Nevertheless, it is a marvellous service.
British Rail has come to appreciate the vast development potential of its mainline stations. It took a long time to get there, but it is doing it now. Waterloo and Liverpool Street have been mentioned. What is happening there is magnificent. Crewe is an absolute transformation. To be stuck there in the old days was ghastly, but today it is quite pleasant. Multistorey car parks are being built at certain busy stations. Guildford is the latest. All this is very much to British Rail's credit. British Rail is also selling off vast tracts of surplus land. The property side is bringing in many millions to its coffers, and that is all to the good.
Network South-East seems to be trying hard, but is vastly lacking in investment. If one goes to Charing Cross one is likely to get into a compartment in a train without a corridor. This is dangerous, and women should not travel in such trains at night—though I appreciate that the compartments are separate. The stock should have been withdrawn years ago. Surburban stock is used too often on long-distance routes. The Portsmouth line is a poor relation which I know only too well. All too often 8-coach trains instead of 12-coach trains run on that line. At times of school holidays, half-terms and the November outings of pensioners there are still 8-coach trains only, and the train is full by the time it reaches Havant. I have raised the matter many times with British Rail, and am told that it is a 202 money-saving operation. There are 12-coach trains morning and evening, but not in the daytime. However, our trains are now getting fuller in the daytime. It is all very well providing brand new stock in the Southampton-Weymouth line, but what about poor old Portsmouth? We are all customers and surely we deserve a little better. Too many trains are comprised of too few carriages.
While the Government boast that they have given great investment opportunities to British Rail, particularly on electrification, they have been too niggardly and too long in coming, so that there is an enormous backlog to be made up. What is more, as the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, said, this capital expenditure has to be paid for by British Rail. It is charged against its external debt. I suspect that that is why there are other cutbacks in staff and carriage use.
We live in a small, overcrowded island in which vast, attractive, clean, reasonably priced public transport—in particular rail—makes every sense. This is particularly so if our roads are not to become one eternal nightmare. In the Isle of Wight—I know that the Minister will agree—there is a terrible traffic problem. There were queues of cars at ten minutes to eight this morning trying to get into our principal town. We will not be able to continue putting more and more cars on to the roads of this country. The sooner that that is appreciated and the necessary funds provided the better.
Talk of any additional closures on British Rail should be abandoned. It has been rumoured that some few more of our country routes may be closed and replaced by bus routes. I hope that that will not happen and that a total stoppage is put to any further closures. A few routes could be reopened—indeed, one or two have been—to advantage. One should pay tribute here to the county councils and some PTEs which have spent precious resources on opening new stations and reopening others, including complete branch lines. Cardiff has been reopened largely due to local finance. Even the old Isle of Wight County Council found £80,000 to open the station at Lake, which did not come very easily to it. That is money well spent, but they cannot expect too many thanks from an Administration who seem hell bent on destroying local government altogether.
I support the trade unions in their present campaign which says that the customer deserves a better deal. The truth is that for the most part the customer is not getting a fair deal, as any London commuter can quickly confirm; but neither are the growing band of cross-country travellers, of whom I am one. I greatly welcome the introduction of Super Sprinters, the more frequent services and the imaginative new linking of different parts of the country.
The trip from Liverpool to Southport was described earlier. Noble Lords should try the journey from Portsmouth to Cardiff. By the time one gets to the town station the train is full. There are all the students from the technical college getting on with their big bags and things on their backs. l f a 20-stone bloke is trying to go through with refreshments, it is an impossible and dangerous situation. People are standing in those conditions right across to Bristol 203 and beyond. It is not right, and should not be like that. Two-coach trains are wrong. At least 4-coach trains should be put on those services.
Why, I ask, does the Cardiff-Portsmouth harbour train always arrive two minutes after the boat has gone? That is the kind of time-tabling that goes on. I try to get into Shropshire and to use the Heart of Wales line, but BR's timing means that there is no way in which one can catch that train without waiting an hour or so on Shrewsbury station. Why does it not stop at Craven Arms so that one can get on to the connection? I do not know. These are questions that I put to the provincial boss. The line is threatened with closure, but it already carries a surprising number of local people.
I must draw to a conclusion. Vandalism is the other matter on which I should like to have some figures. It is costing British Rail huge sums of money. Why is it not keeping guards on the sidings at night to guard the rolling stock? That is where the vandalism must be taking place.
My recipe for increasing patronage is: expedite the rapid transit system, have a look at Canada, which I visited with a Select Committee (it is marvellous what has been done there); better rolling stock and longer trains; more sensible time-tabling in the rural areas; trained personnel capable of giving intelligent information, rather than the ones at Waterloo; reasonably priced fare structures; guaranteed seats on InterCity routes and adequate parking at stations. This, I believe, will bring the many frustrated car drivers back to rail. Regrettably they come back, try it out, get frustrated and go to back to their cars, and that does none of us any good.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ The Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair
My Lords, I have had a lifelong enthusiasm for the railways, although not being quite such a buff as the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster. Nevertheless I started with toy trains in the nursery and worked up through scale models. I would spend long vigils photographing those thumping great steam locomotives travelling at speed. Years later steam was replaced by diesel on the Great Western line, as I choose still to call it.
There was formed the Reading and District Commuters' Association. We had regular meetings with the divisional manager and his immediate staff. That give us the opportunity to criticise railway working in the light of specific observable cases. At the same time we learned of the less visible facts and problems from the management point of view and passed these on to fellow passengers. That leads me to the key of what I believe to be necessary for the railways—communications. I am very interested in that subject from top management down to the lowest grades of railway employees, on to the passengers and all the way back up to management.
When that communication is established, a great deal of the heat will be taken out of railway travel. Too often delays, failures, stoppages and cancellations go unexplained. Most passengers are dumb and stoical; some are angry and vocal. I am not ashamed to say that I am one of the vocal ones. The 204 inspectors, guards and staff on stations on these occasions adopt a defensive attitude, frequently because they themselves do not know what is wrong. Incidentally, I notice that if I make it clear that I know something about railways, the staff immediately become more expansive. Several noble Lords have pointed out that staff on these occasions mention lack of finance for the railways and the lack of money to run them as efficiently as they themselves would like to see. I too have found that to be the case.
However, I have recently heard that on my line—I dare say this also applies to other lines—walkie-talkie radios are being issued. Paddington now has 25 among its staff; Reading has 15. Nothing mollifies intelligent passengers—some of them are intelligent—more than full, rapid and honest explanation of what went wrong, why it went wrong and what is being done about it.
One announcer at Reading went halfway towards this. She was unintentionally funny when apologising for the late running of the train in which I was travelling. It was, she explained, due to difficulties with the locomotive of the train in front. The phrase "a difficult locomotive" sounds as if Thomas the Tank engine is sulking, or even that a racehorse will not go into the starting box. But enough of the complaints! I am told that British Rail is expanding. Its commuter traffic is up by 10 per cent. and other passenger traffic is up by 15 per cent. To cope with this British Rail intends to have longer and faster trains and an improved system to control them.
My line, the one through to Swindon and all four-tracks, has to cope with running speeds of 125, 90 and 70 miles-per-hour and freight speeds. It is extremely difficult to fit those speeds into a timetable. Therefore when things go wrong they can go very wrong indeed.
It is all very well to get things right in theory. In practice, all railwaymen should be keen to ensure efficient working. There must be a willingness and even an ambition to do well. The junior grades, the troops in the field so to speak, perhaps have a cynical view of ambition. They are not paid very well; they do not have many opportunities. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill of Harrow, pointed out, the present chairman of British Rail started as a porter, albeit he had a distinguished father. He worked himself up through the grades by sheer merit right to the top.
The railways are a public service. They will only continue to attract custom if the whole workforce right the way through wills that to happen. The three vital needs are timekeeping, comfort and safety. I have talked to senior signalmen. They all say the same thing about safety. They would rather that passengers arrived safe and late than on time and at risk. They know of the occasional tragedies that occur when things go wrong with signalling.
British Rail has an enviable record on safety going back 150 years. Let that continue; and let us also hope that efficiency and communication between all people concerned with running the railways is improved. We shall then have less cluttered roads.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, I shall endeavour not to repeat some of the things I said during the debate on rail privatisation on 21st December 1988. Sufficient 205 has been said this afternoon for noble Lords to appreciate the problems that exist as regards overcrowded trains in many areas and our congested roads.
The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, referred to the possibility in the not too distant future of the number of travellers at peak times in London increasing by some 20 per cent. It has also been estimated that by the end of the century the number of cars will increase by at least 25 per cent. and lorry movements by 15 per cent. If all that occurs, the role of rail will become even more vital than some noble Lords may think it is at present.
I ask, in shorthand because of time, whether the Government have a co-ordinated transport policy. Do they have a firm attitude on what they believe should be the role of rail in a co-ordinated transport policy? The position on investment is vital. But, as noble Lords have stressed, investment for British Rail is constrained by such factors as its external financing limit.
But we must not overlook the importance of the terrible reduction that has taken place in the public service obligation grant. Just look at the current annual report of British Rail, where it is made quite clear that from a figure of some £1,080 million PSO grant in 1983, there will be a cut by 1992–93 and the figure will be reduced to £477 million. One cannot talk about passenger satisfaction without keeping in mind that terrible reduction in the PSO grant.
During the privatisation debate I referred to the rail unions' Better Rail Campaign. They recognise that passenger satisfaction is vital for the development of British Rail. They selected a few areas such as punctuality and reliability, overcrowding, cleaning standards, station services and service frequency. They commissioned a completely independent report which was published in March. A very detailed report came out as recently as November 1988 with statistical appendices to support it. In the report costs were broken down from each area. One-off payments and annual costs were broken down.
During the debate on 21st December I asked a question to which unfortunately the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, was unable to reply. I ask it again now. What has happened to that report? It was compiled by people working in the industry as regards what they believed to be vital to get passenger satisfaction. Have there been consultations with the unions on that report, and if so with what results? There have been some improvements in recent years, particularly in Network SouthEast, but as most commuters would agree the problem remains.
The noble Lord, Lord Greenhill of Harrow, referred to the sprinter services on cross-country routes. They have been welcomed generally but much more needs to be done in that direction, particularly in the provision of more frequent services.
The noble Lord, Lord Ross of Newport, mentioned the support given by certain local authorities. Has sufficient recognition been given by the Government to the help provided by local authorities in the form of grants for certain rail developments, particularly the Section 20 grants 206 made in the conurbations by the passenger transport authorities, without which some of the improvements would not have been achieved?
British Rail would like to have discussions with the Secretary of State on the possibility of modification of the Section 8 grants so as to increase the number of rail facilities. I cannot go into detail because I am speaking in shorthand against the clock.
Reference has been made to the Central London Rail Study, which deals with the development of British Rail and London Underground. In a preface to the study report the Secretary of State says:if there is to be new investment in transport in London, the passengers who will benefit should meet the cost of it through the fares they pay".Surely such a policy would mean that even more people would switch to cars and we should have greater congestion on the roads. The Government must think the policy through again. If the major costs which are proposed in the Central London Rail Study are to be met by the passengers alone, I foresee increased congestion on London's roads.
The leader in The Times of 27th January this year said:The Central London Rail Study is only a transport study. It needs a companion picture of how the new routes will fit into the projected physical and economic development of the capital over the next few decades".I wonder whether the Government are addressing themselves to that issue.
I believe that British Rail's long-term future, whatever might be done in the short term, lies in the Channel Tunnel development, particularly in respect of freight traffic, its environmental consequences and its economic importance to the regions. The first point I should like to raise in connection with the tunnel, speaking from an amateur point of view, concerns complaints from people in Kent about the fall in house prices which may occur and the noise of trains running at the speeds projected. It has been suggested to me that in view of the short distance from the Channel Tunnel to the London terminus an additional seven minutes on the journey time would reduce the noise to a level which was acceptable to many of the residents. Is that seven minutes something that must be saved in the light of the time that will be saved in the overall journey times from central London to Mid Europe?
On 7th February a Question was tabled concerning the Channel link and opposition from residents of Kent. On the same day there was a debate in the other place initiated by the opposition spokesman, Mr. John Prescott. He stated that he had written to the Secretary of State questioning whether the decision concerning the link route should be left entirely to British Rail. He urged that instead of leaving the rail link to a Private Bill committee to fight out line by line the Secretary of State should accept—as with the Central London Rail Study—that a study should be set up quickly to look into the environmental and regional consequences of the Channel link.
No comment was made on that suggestion by the Secretary of State in his speech immediately following that of Mr. Prescott. No comment was made by Mr. Portillo, the Minister for Public 207 Transport, who closed the debate and had time to consider the question. I wonder whether the Minister can reply to that tonight.
We all want to obtain the best value for the nation from the Channel Tunnel project. Under Section 40 of the Channel Tunnel Act British Rail must submit its plans on international through trains by December this year. An inquiry of the type that I have suggested could meet that target. Let such an inquiry deal, with as much agreement as can possibly be secured, with the development of the rail link. Other matters which I believe such an inquiry should look into include British Rail's concern that HM Customs and Excise should be ready to service inland freight depots to meet customer demand. That was a point which was made repeatedly in our debates on the Channel Tunnel Bill and it is something that we must have. There must be no insistence on customs clearance at the tunnel or in North London. Also, as provided in Section 12 of the Channel Tunnel Act, international passenger trains must have customs and immigration controls without excessive costs being imposed on BR.
Those are the essential matters which will determine whether we get the maximum benefit from the Channel Tunnel project. I hope that the Minister will deal with those points in addition to the other points to which I have referred.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Lord Brabazon of Tara)
My Lords, it is nearly four years since I last thanked the noble Lord, Lord Somers, for initiating a stimulating debate on a very similar theme on the railways. I am glad to be able, as requested by the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, to restate the Government's belief in the importance of the railways and, with other noble Lords, to congratulate British Rail on its achievements.
There have been many changes in the railways during the last four years. Demand—the number of passenger miles travelled—has gone up by 11 per cent. and is now the highest for 27 years—that is, since before the Beeching cuts of the 1960s. Investment in BR's railways has gone up by 85 per cent. in real terms to a planned £560 million this year—the highest for 20 years. Over the next four years it will be another 35 per cent. higher at an average of £775 million at current prices. The whole country will benefit from the railway-based Channel Tunnel, the electrification of the East coast main line, new, comfortable and fast trains on local services all over Britain and many other improvements, including schemes designed to improve the already very high standards of safety on the railways.
That record of approving the biggest investment programme since the change from steam to diesel demonstrates the Government's faith in the railways. They have a very important role to play in the transport of the country. There are tasks which they do particularly well, such as commuter services, transporting heavy and bulky freight, including coal and minerals, and fast long distance passenger transport. However, our support, particularly 208 financial support, for the railways is not and never could be unconditional. We must always remember that subsidy to the railways can only come from the taxpayer and that there are many taxpayers who earn less than the majority of rail users. Nor must we forget the reviving effects on the economy generally of reducing the tax burden. In addition, managers always need a good incentive to manage properly, and if the Government provided a bottomless purse for them to dip into they would have no incentive to make the railways as efficient and attractive as possible to their customers.
The Government want to see a modern, safe and efficient railway serving its customers well by providing the services they want at prices they can afford. Increasingly, that is what BR is doing. Its remarkably successful performance during the last few years has made investment on a huge scale both possible and sensible. Its group result last year was the highest ever achieved, and the railway operating profit of £109 million before interest but after grant was the best in the history of the board. This success was not confined to the passenger railway: Railfreight had its best results for a decade with an operating surplus before interest of £44 million.
One of the biggest changes of all has been in InterCity, which has been ineligible for grant since the beginning of this financial year. Last year InterCity received some £100 million of government grant, and we all recognised that making it profitable would take some time, but BR's latest corporate plan shows that InterCity should be out of the red by next year and making a sensible return on its assets by 1992–93. This has not been achieved by huge general fare increases, although sorting out some of the anomalies, such as the very low fares paid by a few long distance commuters in relation to other users of the same peak services, is a painful business.
InterCity's success illustrates an important maxim; that benefits to passengers do not necessarily increase in line with grant. Levels of grant to the railways rose sharply between 1978 and 1981, but were no obvious advantages for users. I do not believe that the fears of the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, about grant are justified. Since 1983 grant has fallen by 45 per cent. while usage has risen by over 12 per cent. and, despite many people's beliefs, overall quality of service has improved. I am not saying that in order to increase usage one must reduce grant, but it is certainly true that increases in usage, and thus fare revenue, combined with increased efficiency of operation mean that grant can be reduced without ill effects.
Despite the overall improvement in BR's quality of service, there are still undoubtedly many services which are not up to the standard that passengers are entitled to expect. Several noble Lords have drawn our attention to some of those this evening. BR has been almost too successful in attracting new business, as this has led to serious overcrowding in some places at certain times of the day, particularly on parts of Network SouthEast. This problem of success is being vigorously tackled. The Government have agreed a range of quality of service objectives with BR which cover punctuality, service provision and cleaning, as well as overcrowding on Network SouthEast. They 209 have not all been met yet, but BR is working hard at the problems and hopes that the worst of them will be solved within a few years.
One of the problems in improving quality of service is the shortage of staff. BR faces particular problems of recruitment and retention of certain rail staff in some areas, especially London and the South-East. BR is tackling this problem in a number of ways. Last year's pay settlement increased London weighting and directed attention to raising the basic rates of the lowest paid staff. Special allowances have been introduced for certain staff working within a radius of 40 miles from central London. Other measures have included flexible manning and the extension of driver-only operation.
I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Somers, and other noble Lords that punctuality should be improved. Network SouthEast's objective is 90 per cent. of trains arriving within five minutes of the right time. Last year, 92 per cent. of trains met that target. InterCity's objective is 90 per cent. of trains arriving within 10 minutes of the right itme. Its achievement was not as good; 87 per cent. met the target last year. Some lines are worse than others, but BR is working to improve them. That is why accurate clocks arc essential. I say that particularly to my noble friend Lord Moyne. It is British Rail—not the Government—which runs the railways. We set it objectives, including punctuality, and it is up to BR to work out how to achieve those objectives and to justify the costs. If we in the Government spent our time second-guessing it, we would spend a great deal of money for perhaps little purpose. Civil servants have no experience in running trains, but I can assure my noble friend that the cost of the new clocks is infinitesimal compared with the revenue of the railways and makes no practical difference to the fares.
British Rail is also paying considerable attention to the comfort and convenience of its passengers. For example, it has already begun a seven-year, £160 million programme to modernise every station in Network SouthEast. Stations will not only look better; they will be better lit and will have improved lavatories and more facilities for disabled passengers. New rolling stock is not only fast and efficient but in many cases has air-conditioning, improved ventilation and lighting and public address systems. Older rolling stock is also being refurbished to bring it up to the standards of comfort that passengers now expect. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Somers, will agree that there have been notable improvements for the passenger since his last debate four years ago and that many of Network SouthEast's stations have been transformed by a simple coat of paint or by displays such as the daffodils now flowering at Waterloo, which I hope cheer up the noble Lord every morning.
However, cheerful stations, though important, are not nearly as important as a good service. There is at the moment a record amount of investment going ahead on London's railways to relieve congestion. We have approved over £100 million of investment to relieve congestion on the London Underground in little more than two years, not including the major upgrading of the Central Line costing over £700 210 million. We have also approved investment of over —230 million in British Rail's Network SouthEast over the same period and British Rail has itself approved many other small schemes. The works being carried out vary between lines because of different constraints on practicality, but they include building more and higher capacity trains, lengthening some platforms—because the longer trains advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, are of limited use if the platforms are too short—and investing to improve critical junctions and signalling.
The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, has perhaps not sufficiently appreciated how much that kind of investment increases the capacity of the system. Nevertheless, he is right in saying that renewal is not enough. We have also approved some small but useful new lines, such as the Stansted airport link, the Windsor link in Manchester and the new Thameslink.
Even this huge investment programme is not enough to cope with the recent and projected increases in demand. That is why my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport, jointly with the chairmen of BR and LRT, set up the Central London Rail Study last March. The report was published on 26th. January. It recommended that as well as current and proposed plans for upgrading the existing lines, detailed work should be done on two alternative packages of new lines, each costing some £2 billion and each involving two brand new lines across London. Further analysis is now being carried out on the alternatives and we expect to make decisions later in the year.
Several noble Lords, notably the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, have said, the Channel Tunnel is another major opportunity for British Rail to expand its business. When the tunnel is open, even with the existing tracks, passengers will be able to reach Paris in three hours and Brussels in two and three-guarter hours from London. With a new line journey times could be reduced by 30 minutes to as little as two and a half hours to Paris. The opportunities are also there for direct travel from other places in the United Kingdom to various continental destinations. BR is consulting with local interests all over the country so that it can plan the best services.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, in particular that I understand that British Rail is confident that main lines north of London will be perfectly adequate to cope with the tunnel traffic for the foreseeable future. British Rail is considering carefully the scope for through passenger trains when the tunnel is open. We must make the best use of the paths through the tunnel. British Rail is well aware of the importance of that and is busy planning how to achieve the best results. It is consulting interested parties in all the United Kingdom regions with a view to producing a draft plan late this year which I cannot anticipate at this stage.
The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, asked whether there would an inquiry into the new proposed rail link to the Kent coast. We believe that the Private Bill procedure is the accepted procedure for the promotion of new railway works and objectors will have an opportunity to petition against the Bill. This is a substitute for the public inquiry process. My 211 honourable friend the Minister of State in fact answered a question on that subject in another place last Monday.
Freight traffic by rail is also becoming more competitive and thus more able to meet the challenges presented by its rivals. An inevitable result of improving roads is that road transport often becomes more attractive than rail to consignors, particularly over shorter distances or when transfer from road to rail is needed. But Railfreight is fighting back with a highly competitive and innovative approach and its future is promising. Again the most exciting new prospect is the Channel Tunnel, which will allow rail to be competitive on long Continental hauls. Another development is in combined transport, which means carrying goods in the same box on both road and rail. We are familiar with containers, but containers need special equipment to get them on to and off railway wagons. Various new developments will allow the back half of an articulated lorry, complete with wheels, to be driven on to special wagons without heavy lifting gear, or mini-containers to be slid direct from a lorry on to a railway wagon.
British Rail's new Railfreight Distribution division, recently created from the merger of Freightliner and Speedlink, is planning to make the best use of these innovations to compete as a commercial business. The policy of successive governments has been that rail freight should compete with other modes of transport on as fair a basis as possible. That means that British Rail cannot take on unprofitable business just for the sake of moving freight by rail. Inevitably it also means the shedding of some loss-making businesses. The proof of how well this is working is last year's excellent result for Railfreight.
I should like just to refer to some remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Newport. While it is clear that there are problems of lack of capacity in parts of the rail network, there are many other lines which have far more capacity than is used. It is up to BR to adapt its services to meet local demand and market them so as to create extra demand where that makes financial sense. Some lines have had a dramatic increase in use. For instance, since the Marches route, which goes from Cardiff via Crewe to Liverpool and Manchester, was given new Sprinters and an hourly service last May, passenger usage has risen by 49 per cent. There may however be cases in which lightly used rail services ought to be replaced by attractive, guaranteed bus services and we expect BR to consider the scope for doing that.
§ Lord Ross of Newport
My Lords, I hope the Minister will forgive me for interrupting but he referred to the Marches route, which I use. I can tell him that unfortunately on that service every so often there is only one coach and one has to stand all the way to Hereford. I hope that he will take that fact on board, because he may be considering further closures, and I am quite convinced that more can be done to keep some of our rural lines profitable.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord is right. I was giving just one example 212 of a cross-country route where the use of new trains has greatly increased its popularity. And replying to the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, I understand that there has been since 1983 a net increase of over 70 stations.
While we all, I think welcome increases in British Rail's use of lines with spare capacity where this can be achieved at reasonable cost, we must be quite clear on the limitations. Travel by rail is not intrinsically better, or worse, than travel by road or air, or even by water or on foot. It has advantages for the individual, including speed, the comfort of not having to drive or park and a much better safety record than road; but road too has its advantages, including convenience and the comfort of door-to-door transport, especially when it is raining. It is for the individual to decide which mode suits him best for a particular journey, not for a nannying government to influence his choice.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester referred to subsidy of the railway. The Government accept that there are circumstances in which it is right to subsidise rail services because of the benefit to the community. Last year we paid over £1 billion in grant to BR and to London Regional Transport. Grant helps to reduce traffic congestion on the roads, especially in peak commuting hours in urban areas, though as I said earlier the link between subsidy and congestion is by no means automatic. There may also be a case for maintaining local rail services which are relied on for essential local journeys or where the community is economically dependent on them. There may be land-use reasons why a particular project should be supported—the Docklands Light Railway was undertaken as much for developmental as for transport reasons.
There can also be environmental considerations. That is why we pay the freight facilities grant—or the Section 8 grant, as it is better known, to which the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, referred. It is not to subsidise private firms or British Rail but to remove heavy lorries from sensitive roads, such as those through small towns or through national parks. Grant is provided for facilities for handling rail freight in order to tip the balance in favour of rail in marginal cases where the correct commercial decision would otherwise be that the traffic should go by road. It would be entirely wrong to provide grant in cases where rail is commercially attractive in its own right.
Since the scheme began in 1974 the Government have awarded 188 grants in England, Scotland and Wales to a value of about £56 million. As a result, we estimate that over 3 million journeys by lorries are kept off unsuitable roads every year.
We must also bear in mind the relative shares in the market of road and rail. Rail takes only 7 per cent. of passenger mileage and 9 per cent. of freight tonne miles. Road takes 92 per cent. of passenger and 58 per cent. of freight tonne miles. That means that a very large increase in rail use would have a comparatively small effect on roads. Let us imagine that rail passenger mileage could double overnight to 14 per cent. of the total, with all the extra rail traffic transferred from roads. Road passenger traffic would go down by only 8 per cent.; which is the equivalent of two years' increase. If the pattern of rail traffic 213 remained much the same as it is now, doubling demand would result in dreadful overcrowding on trains, which could be relieved only by building new lines, which can, as we are seeing, be just as controversial as new roads.
Another important factor is the purposes for which road and rail are used. With increasing wealth, more and more people have cars and want to use them. Unless they happen to be lucky enough to have both the starting place and the finishing place of their journey close to a railway station, there will be advantages in terms of convenience in doing the whole journey by car. Similar arguments apply to freight: if the journey has to include lorry collection or delivery, it may be more commercially sensible to use a lorry for the whole journey, particularly if most of the journey can be done by motorway. If the railheads are in urban areas, it may well make far more environmental sense to make the whole journey by motorway and feeder roads.
I can see that I am rapidly running out of time. However, the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, asked me in particular about the bridge at Inverness. I can assure him that British Rail has promised to rebuild it as soon as possible.
Finally, let me stress that while much of the railway may be able to operate on a commercial basis, the Government recognise that some parts will never be profitable—lightly used lines whose revenue meets only a small part of the costs. We fully accept that when these lines are needed for social reasons subsidies from the taxpayer should be made available; this will continue whatever the future pattern of BR ownership. But the future of the railways as a whole, whether or not they develop into a flourishing business providing the services that their customers want at the right prices, ultimately depends on the board and all its employees, not on the Government. We will give them all the encouragement we can, but we will not go back to the arid and depressing business of giving them as much of other people's money as they ask for, whether or not they provide useful services. If money is always available, there is no incentive for managers of the railways to manage and to find more efficient ways of operating or of marketing. They would be demoralised with no worthwhile goals, and the taxpayer and passenger would end up with a worse service at much greater cost. We could never allow that.
I should like once more to thank the noble Lord, Lord Somers, for having initiated this debate.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, I do not want to delay the business of the House, and the Statement in particular, but before the Minister sits down perhaps I may remind him that this will be the second debate in less than two months in which I have asked about the unions' Better Rail Campaign. Will there be or has there been consultation with the unions? If so, what are the results?
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
My Lords, I apologise. I must have overlooked the point that the noble Lord raised on the last occasion. I therefore have not come armed with the information this afternoon. I shall look into the matter as soon as I possibly can.
§ Lord Somers
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I do not say that in the conventional way. I feel that some constructive points have been made. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, for what I feel was a very encouraging answer. I should also 'ike to remind the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, that the most uncomfortable place that I can remember waiting in was the organ loft. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.